There’s absolutely no doubt Covid-19 made 2020 one of the toughest times ever experienced for our entire economy and society – not just those of us working in the real estate sector.
But for an industry that was previously on autopilot, it’s also teaching us some valuable lessons. This is my take on them:
- The best time to change was three years ago
The Inman Connect Now virtual conference in June heard that more technology adoption took place in the first three months of Covid lockdowns than the full three years previously.
Suddenly agencies – and agents – who had avoided moving to the cloud, were dubious about the need to put everything into their CRM and who still loved filing things manually realised that if only they’d listened to the franchise heads and coaches – and free advice – telling them to move away from 1992, they would be able to continue to trade even in the face of lockdowns.
It has been a salient lesson for the industry. That global pandemics – or any economic jolt – can occur when you least expect it and with little notice.
There is no perfect time to adopt innovation that lets us do business more affordably, efficiently, quickly, to a higher level, to a greater number of customers. So if you find that you didn’t make the call three years ago – or at whatever time – the best time is to do it is now.
- We can change when we have to
In the face of unprecedented circumstances created by the pandemic, the industry rallied. Proptechs reported record levels of inquiry, webinar and training attendance and adoption.
With fewer transactions freeing us from the hamster wheel of frantic routine, suddenly teams had the bandwidth to learn new skills, clean up the database, learn about the functionality of tools they’d had access to for ages but never mastered.
Tech businesses leaned in hard to enable and support this new interest in adoption with extended trial periods and discounted offerings. As traditional ways of doing business – like inspections and auctions – were taken off the table by government authorities and prohibited, the industry found that creative solutions to traditional ways of doing things had actually been around for a while. They were just waiting for agents to catch up.
- Traditional ways of doing things can be unnecessarily time-consuming
So into this period of forced adoption came the realisation that some of these new ways of doing things actually had – wow!- advantages over traditional methods. Maybe no one will ever buy a home simply by inspecting it virtually but a video walkthrough or a 3D tour does remove the volume of tyre kickers at an open for inspection and reserves inspections for serious parties only.
Whether it has been the value of staging properties digitally, finally getting on board with digital signatures, or realising how much time can be saved by setting up forms online and email marketing rather than newspapers and letterbox drops, our enforced separation from the office made it necessary to look for ways that the machines could connect the dots in our absence.
And as we put down the weight of these activities, we realise it is freeing us up to be more human.
- Our industry can cope with more flexible working structures
Covid has taught us that a good day’s work does not have to occur between 9 to 5 and presenting perfectly coiffed at your desk. It also taught us there is more to leadership than targets on whiteboards and gathering everyone in the board room to tell them how things are going to go down this week.
Cloud-based software allowed us to access the information we needed whether we were working alone in the office, on a desk in the bedroom or at the dining room table while homeschooling the kids. Zoom became a powerful connector for both team meetings, and team trivia nights. Work still gets done despite – or perhaps because of – messy homes, noisy kids and partners with seemingly no pants walking past in the background.
The implications for the industry are huge. Our bosses, our colleagues and our clients are now comfortable with virtual connections. We’ve all become extremely comfortable with tracksuit pants and ugg boots under the desk. The need to jump into cars and onto planes – has dropped off a cliff. We miss it sure, but do we really need to do it that way, to that degree again? It’s led us to question some of the old expectations we had about ‘professional’ and are instead swapping it for ‘genuine’ and ‘real’.
This opens up the industry for better career options in sales and property management from a more diverse workforce working more flexible hours. The expectation that we submit everything to a corporate ideal has been replaced with the desire to do valuable work well – in pants not requiring a belt – and kids and dogs underfoot just need to be managed.
- There are significant buyer and seller benefits to digitising sales
Some of the technology we adopted was to solve a specific problem that we had as agents during lockdown but they also solved problems for our end customers that we’d never really thought about. It means these innovations should stay even after all this is over.
Homebuying, for example, is a drag for buyers. It’s even worse trying to inspect rentals. You lose entire weekends for months of your life inspecting properties – most of which are not suitable. But virtual inspections streamline this process now. It means fewer people will turn up to live opens, but those people will be genuinely qualified buyers. It means more potential tenants can check places out, giving landlords the pick of good renters.
And at a time when buyers are at a premium, suddenly taking steps that help you keep better track of them, and sell them one of your properties makes a lot more sense. Into this mix, we’ve seen the rise of negotiation platforms, providing buyers with clarity about the offer process, and centralising the delivery of information to all.
What we’ve learned is that with transparency, the buyers who missed out don’t seem to be as angry. And you’ve got a lot more information about their qualifications to buy the next property you list giving you an arsenal of leads to share at your next appraisal presentation.
- Success is about building businesses that can withstand shocks
When all is said and done and the virus finally recedes, there will be big changes wrought in real estate. The gap between hugely successful businesses and those that struggle will become greater, defined by the adoption of technology, the recognition of the importance of streamlining processes and maximising human capital.
These bigger, leaner, faster businesses will offer superior customer service to sellers, buyers, renters and investors by combining the best of back-office technology with fantastic customer experiences. Their use of big data to identify, nurture and convert leads will see them quickly dominate their slower, traditional competitors.
As they succeed and eat up market share, they will build war chests, aware that the next economic shock could be around the corner, and determined to maintain a strong buffer to cope. This will be a contrast to traditional agents, living from one up-market to the next until the timing finally puts them out of their misery.
The future of real estate wrought by Covid-19 will be larger, more technologically enabled, real estate businesses that are well run and profitable enterprises, rather than small two-person shopfronts running a car and a mobile phone.